Are the Fumes From Litter Boxes Toxic to Humans?

by Elle Di Jensen, Demand Media
    Living with a house cat means routinely cleaning the litter box.

    Living with a house cat means routinely cleaning the litter box.

    It's the least favorite job in the house, but you scoop the litter box as an act of friendship for the feline love of your life. There were times when you jokingly thought the fumes to be toxic. There is some truth to that, so it's best to know the facts.

    Toxoplasmosis

    Toxoplasmosis is the illness that is most commonly associated with the litter box. It's a parasitic infection that is almost symptomless and when it does occur, it can be mistaken for a mild flu with a fever, muscle aches and swollen glands. Cats can become carriers by eating birds or rodents infected with the parasite and then pass it onto their human companions through contact with the litter box contents. If you've been maintaining litter boxes for your cats for years, you may have already been infected at some point. If so, the good news is that you will have an immunity to toxoplasmosis and it should not be a cause for concern for pregnancy or your health in the future.

    Ammonia

    The ammonia in cat urine can be strong to the point of causing watering in the eyes and headaches. The Center for Disease Control also lists the dangers of exposure to ammonia to include breathing difficulties.

    E. Coli

    The Escherichia coli bacterium doesn't typically bring to mind a cat box, but E. coli is present in the intestines of cats as well as in humans. In most instances, the bacteria is harmless, but it can bring on illness, triggering diarrhea and stomach cramps and can be dangerous in severe cases.

    Best Practices

    Scoop out the litter box once a day and empty and clean it with disinfectant on a regular basis to eliminate or reduce the possibility of reactions and disease. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water immediately after working with the litter box. You can opt to wear a mask and rubber gloves to further protect yourself. If toxoplasmosis is a concern, have your doctor perform a blood test to see if you have already been exposed to it. If you have not had toxoplasmosis prior to becoming pregnant, you should avoid cleaning the litter box during your pregnancy.

    About the Author

    Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.

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